This past week, Jeff Lynne released the first single from Electric Light Orchestra’s first album of new tracks in fourteen years, and fans have been squeeing with delight at the new song “When I Was a Boy”, because it sounds so much like the classic ELO from the mid to late 70s that we all know so well. Lynne will totally admit to being heavily influenced by the Beatles during his initial 70s tenure, and you can definitely hear it in their songs. It’s no surprise he was tapped by George Harrison for the Traveling Wilburys project as well as the Beatles Anthology.
I remember hearing some of the singles early on, like “Showdown”, “Can’t Get It Out of My Head”, “Evil Woman” and “Telephone Line” on the family stereo, but it wasn’t until 1977’s Out of the Blue that I realized how much I liked the band. One of my sisters had picked up the single for “Sweet Talkin’ Woman” (which was pressed on clear pink vinyl!) and soon after my parents bought us the album for Christmas. It’s a classic double-album with solid songwriting throughout. It also contains a “mini-opera”, entitled “Concerto for a Rainy Day”, which takes up Side 3 of the album and ends with one of their most well-known hits, “Mr. Blue Sky.”
From there I followed the band to their next album, 1979’s Discovery, with the hit single “Don’t Bring Me Down”, as well as their inclusion in the latter half of the Xanadu soundtrack the next year. [The movie was interesting in idea but is deeply flawed in delivery, and has not aged well at all. All that aside, ELO did manage to score some excellent Don Bluth animation with the “Don’t Walk Away” segment!]
The next album, 1981’s Time, was quite the departure from all of the above, and thus was a bit of a headscratcher for many, but I’ve always considered it one of my favorite ELO albums, just below Out of the Blue. It’s a concept album about a man time-traveling over a hundred years into the future, unable to return to his own timeline, and coming to terms with this unexpected change. There are a number of great tracks on this one, including the top-ten single “Hold On Tight”:
Another single worth noting is “Twilight”, which only hit the lower half of the charts in most countries. I for one hadn’t known about it until I heard it way on the back end of a radio station’s year-end countdown, and thought…how the hell did I miss this one?? It’s a fantastic track with crashing drums, a driving beat, and sci-fi tinged lyrics. In Japan it became a cult favorite as it was used (without permission, though I believe Lynne thought it was awesome and let them fly with it) in 1983 for the opening animation for that country’s science fiction convention, Daicon IV.
The animation was done by a group of diehard SF fans who soon became the anime company Gainax, now known internationally as the production team behind Neon Genesis Evangelion, Gunbuster and FLCL, just to name a few. It’s a classic piece of Japanese animation worth watching. Try to see how many well-known SF characters (and tropes, and spaceships!) you can recognize here!
ELO’s last few albums, Secret Messages (1983) and Balance of Power (1986) did not fare nearly as well as their previous output, but they’re still solid albums with the signature Jeff Lynne sound, with songs such as the twangy “Rock and Roll Is King”, the dreamy “Secret Messages”, and their last hit of the 80s, “Calling America”:
Lynne would retire the ELO moniker after that album (drummer Bev Bevan would continue with Lynne’s okay as “ELO Part II” for most of the 90s) and would turn to music production (and releasing two solo albums). He briefly reignited the ELO name in 2001 with the Zoom album with the minor single “Alright”, but returned to producing soon after.
Over the years I managed to pick up their back catalog, and found it just as intriguing as their more well-known tracks. The first three albums (The Electric Light Orchestra, ELO 2 and On the Third Day) are more prog-rock affairs that featured a mix of baroque strings, electric blues and lengthy suites, but it was the fourth album Eldorado that attracted the attention of new fans, with its more Beatlesque pop balladry. Their star would continue to rise with Face the Music and A New World Record, until finally hitting it big internationally with Out of the Blue.
There are countless album tracks worth seeking out as well from this band: Eldorado’s “Mister Kingdom”, Face the Music‘s “Fire On High”, Out of the Blue‘s “Summer and Lightning” and even the light and fanciful “The Diary of Horace Wimp” from Discovery are just a few of many great tracks from the band worth checking out. They’re always entertaining, and always creative.